On Wednesday, the 25th of March, 2015 at 6.30pm in Westside library, an information evening on the new Galway Steiner National School was held. Lindsay Myers began, giving an overview of the six key elements of the Steiner pedagogy, and discussed how it relates to the Irish curriculum.
These key features are:
- An integrated curriculum- with learning happening in an integrated way (e.g. with projects) rather than in discrete subjects.
- The class teacher and the centrality of the relationship of the teacher and child.
- A child-centered approach. Steiner education looks at age appropriate learning, thinking about what a child can do based on their developmental stage, and experience of the world.
- Oral language, with an emphasis on storytelling, discussion, confidence in speech.
- The importance of the early school years- play, movement, and freedom to explore the world in art, music and nature in a non-prescriptive way.
- The parents as primary educators, and the special relationship they have in the school, being involved in every possible way.
She also noted that the school has confirmed a temporary location in Brooklawn House, in Galway West Business Park, Knocknacarra (behind Dunnes and B&Q). The venue is a bright and airy building and the Educate Together School are housed on the ground floor of the same building, and will share some of the outside space.
He gave some context to how Steiner Education began in Ireland. The first primary school started in 1987, in East Clare [Raheen Woods and Mol an Oige in Ennistymon], by two groups of approximately 30 parents, in all. Some were seeking to do something radically different in education, and others had children that weren’t doing well in mainstream schools. Initially, in Raheen Woods, a little school started, with 12 families, who essentially started it themselves. It was very much a parent-driven initiative. Therefore, Pearse noted that this [Galway Steiner National School] is a process of moving towards something very new in Ireland, with state support. It is a big move for an education system that is slow to change. Also, this year, both schools in Co. Clare now have permanent recognition from the state.
Pearse went on to outline some important aspects of Steiner schools. Firstly, the values in a Steiner school relate to a central concern for child development. Often, traditional education is a curricular-based education rather than child-centered. Instead, Steiner asks what is a child’s experience as they grow through the years. So, being interested in children is of primary importance to a teacher, not knowing the curriculum. A good teacher is a wonderful thing to see. There are constraints in that you have to follow the curriculum, and you have to meet requirements of the state, but any curriculum is subject to interpretation.
Secondly, Pearse spoke about how teaching four year olds to read and write at such a young age is not supported by evidence. There is no formal teaching of children in this respect until they are closer in age to seven, in many countries around the world. Then they are ready. And they can do it.
Thirdly, another feature of Steiner education, mentioned by Pearse, is the use of large format blank books rather than textbooks in Steiner Schools. The rationale of what is taught is derived from understanding the children, and from recognising that at a certain point that children realise that words are made up of certain sounds. When they awaken to that reality- that is when reading and writing should be taught. So Steiner is a developmental approach that uses the curriculum to meet those needs. Steiner education should be active, and real – doing real things that have real meaning for children- making, baking, and creating. Play is the most child appropriate activity. Informal learning. Children live in the world as a continuum. The children learn from the heart in primary education, not the head. In the affect. “What was it like in Norway in the middle ages” – it’s not information in a dry form, but information in an experience.
Fourthly, teaching in a Steiner school is like being an artist, according to Pearse. The presentation of material is an artistic activity. The arts are a key component [of Steiner pedagogy]. Schooling has a tendency to narrow down. You need to work to keep the space open for freedom, expression, and creativity. The language of that space for children where they can retain their autonomy is the arts. These artistic elements should permeate the school. The main lesson – of one hour and a half duration- is done through the weaving of the material by the teacher, including music, story, movement. It means that the children’s experience is taken into account. The children are addressed in themselves in how the lessons are put together artistically.
Finally, Pearse spoke generally about learning with heart. Pearse noted that we are born into the world as learners. The importance of informal learning needs to recognised by educators. The curriculum, teachers and school need to be alive. Also, the practice of the same teacher staying with the same children for a number of years- where adopted is a tremendous benefit, to really know the children. A school is a place of learning and teaching, but also a place for care. Teachers have to care. And that speaks to who the teacher is a human being, not who they are as a professional. These are human relationships. You need to facilitate not instruct. Children want to learn.
Pearse quoted an interview with the educator Paulo Freire: “If you ask me Paulo, what is in being in the world, that calls your own attention to you? I would say to you that I am a curious being.”
That is the natural orientation of human beings, according to Pearse. We, teachers and parents, facilitate that curiosity, so they remain curious. Even in our spiritual lives- we are here to learn. We don’t need to be externally motivated to learn, or have fear to learn.